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"Dirty Pair" TV series offers Kei and Yuri at their most enjoyable
The 1985 "Dirty Pair" TV series was the first Japanese animated production to star brunette Yuri and redhead Kei, the voluptuous and volatile duo of space fighters who prefer to call themselves "Lovely Angels," but are invariably known throughout the galaxy as the "Dirty Pair," thanks to their tendency to leave a lot of damage in the wake of their chaotic adventures. (They actually made their first appearance in a cameo in the 1983 animated feature, CRUSHER JOE.) I've reviewed several other entries in the "Dirty Pair" franchise here, including the 1989 OAV series, two OAV specials ("Affair on Nolandia" and "Flight 005 Conspiracy") and one movie (PROJECT EDEN), plus CRUSHER JOE, but I'm grateful that the original 1985 TV series has finally been released on DVD in the U.S., in Japanese with English subtitles. I watched the first 13 episodes and I have to say I consider this program the best example of "Dirty Pair" I've yet seen. The series offers adventure, humor, imagination and abundant pulchritude on the part of the two main characters.
Some of the episodes are straight space adventures where Yuri and Kei confront pirates, battle monsters or rescue people on all sorts of planets. Some lean toward hard science fiction, as in episode 12, "The Little Dictator," where scientists invest a lab rat with super intelligence and the experiment backfires when the rat, Algernon, leads a takeover of the facility by his army of rats. (Algernon is a reference to the famous sci-fi short story, "Flowers for Algernon.") With some catastrophic exceptions (check out the Death Star-style action in episode 9), Kei and Yuri usually do a good job of fulfilling their roles as experienced troubleshooters for the intergalactic paramilitary WWWA (World Welfare Works Association).
In addition to the "Algernon" reference, there are signs of other favorite stories and films on the part of the writers. In episode 8, they land on a planet called "Poisonville," where Yuri's childhood sweetheart is apparently imprisoned. Poisonville is a reference to the Dashiell Hammett crime novel, "Red Harvest" (1929), where the action is set in a corrupt mining town called Personville, that's generally referred to by the locals as "Poisonville." Episode 9 follows up with an adventure on a Wild West-style planet where Kei and Yuri each join rival gangs in a bid to play both ends against the middle in a plot borrowed from the classic films, YOJIMBO (1961) and its Italian western remake, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). And what novel was YOJIMBO inspired by? That's right, "Red Harvest." So the cross-cultural influences keep going back and forth.
The adventure episodes are all fun to watch and filled with excitement and suspense, but I tend to prefer the comic episodes where the girls get to check out guys, engage in slapstick chases, and hurl humorous insults back and forth, mostly about weight, breast size, fashion sense and choice of men. In episode 4, they have to pursue a runaway cat with super powers (and a taste for cheesecake) around a sprawling metropolis. In episode 10, they land on a planet and are accused of impersonating the Dirty Pair when they try to protect a young prince who's been targeted for assassination. In episode 11, my favorite of the 13, they're off-duty and have plenty of time to be their usual comical, flirty selves when they stop on a planet to buy dresses for a party and get mistaken for the lookalike bank robbery team of "Pete and Moila." When they try to escape, they find a gaggle of pesky kids on their ship and are forced to fly off with them, making the lawmen think they've taken hostages. There's a Lupin III vibe to much of the action.
I love the animation and design in this series. The frequent action scenes are fast-paced and fluidly animated. The colors are bright and the graphics bold. The settings are always interesting, whether they're on bleak planetary landscapes, flying through space at warp speed, or on crowded city streets and shopping malls. Kei and Yuri are exceedingly cute and quite an eyeful in their bathing-suit-style uniforms. (They switch to snazzy blue skin-tight battle suits in episode 8.) Their comical facial expressions are matched by the quick pace of their banter and frequent asides by the voice actresses, Saeko Shimazu and Kyouko Tonguu, who do a marvelous job. I found the animation and design a lot more sophisticated here than it is in the later versions of "Dirty Pair."
ADDENDUM (July 1, 2015): I'm planning to watch this series again, so I re-read my review to remind myself which episodes I liked and in so doing I came to a realization that seems to have escaped me when I wrote the piece four years ago. Last night, I re-watched the first two episodes of "Cowboy Bebop" (1998) and it appears to me that both "Dirty Pair" and "Lupin III" look forward to "Cowboy Bebop." Like "Cowboy Bebop," "Dirty Pair" envisions a far-flung network of space colonies reflecting 20th century industrial capitalist culture and institutions. And because of this, the settings which Kei and Yuri visit seem familiar to us, as do those visited by Spike & co. in "Cowboy Bebop."
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